We all know that white / refined sugar isn’t good for our health. Yet sugar intake is at an all-time high and it’s one of the biggest drivers of the obesity epidemic, Type 2 Diabetes and inflammation.
The harmful effects of sugar is largely caused by the way it is metabolised by the body. When we consume sugar, it’s quickly absorbed into the bloodstream, causing our blood sugar levels to rise rapidly. In response to a blood sugar spike, the body releases the hormone insulin, which is required to get the sugar into our cells to be used as fuel. Any excess is then converted into fat.
The continuous consumption of sugar and subsequent spikes in blood sugar and insulin, overtime causes our body to become less sensitive to insulin. As a result the body releases more insulin for the same effect. More insulin in the blood means more fat storage and inflammation.
We are naturally conditioned to seek out sweet foods, therefore finding ways to obtain this sweetness without the harmful effects on our health is key. When considering alternatives to white sugar, it’s important to consider two things; is it natural and how does it impact our blood sugar levels.
Honey, is similar to sugar in its level of sweetness. However, it’s a more favourable source because it’s natural and also has antioxidant and antibacterial properties. Yet when assessing its impact on blood sugar and insulin, honey is much the same.
Artificial sweeteners are another source of sweetness, offering the sugary taste yet are very low in calories which means they don’t impact blood sugar levels. The most common artificial sweeteners are aspartame (Equal) and sucralose (Splenda). Despite the low caloric and blood sugar effects, more and more research on these sweeteners are demonstrating that they can be more detrimental to our health than sugar. Artificial sweeteners wreak havoc on the bacteria that live in our gut which play a fundamental role in our health. Overtime this disruption to the gut microbiome drives inflammation, weight gain, poor immunity and insulin resistance.
Stevia is a natural sweetener which is derived from a herb originating from South America. The active compounds of stevia are steviol glycosides which makes it 200 times sweeter than white sugar yet like artificial sweeteners, doesn’t impact blood sugar levels like sugar and honey does. Given that it’s natural, stevia is far better than artificial sweeteners.
Monk fruit also known as lo han guo is another natural sweetener that is gaining a lot of traction in the market and believed will be more popular than stevia. It’s sweeter than stevia, and 300-400 times sweeter than white sugar. The sweetness from monk fruit isn’t derived from natural sugars like most fruits but rather from a powerful antioxidant called mogrosides. These are metabolised differently by the body resulting in no calories and effect on blood sugar.
When assessing substitutes to white sugar, monk fruit and stevia are both favourable options. They both offer maximum sweetness in a natural form, without impacting blood sugar levels. Fortunately, there are a number of products available on the market that contain either one of these natural sweeteners or a combination of both such as Nature Sweet by Whole Earth Sweetener Co.